Huis clos. That’s the first thing that springs to mind, as I enter the junior common room in the basement of Trudering’s St. Peter and Paul church. “Huis clos”, Sartre’s probably most famous play epitomises the all-pervasive claustrophobia of being in a confined space over a prolonged space of time. But the sense of claustrophobia is immediately counterbalanced by the wave of human warmth I am engulfed in. For Diana (51) and Anwah (57) definitely rate as one of the most warm-hearted, genuine and generous people I have met in a long time. Who will always share the (very) little they have with their guests, something not overly common in Northern Europe.
And they are grateful for living in what seems to me very cramped quarters, as being granted church asylum saved them from being deported to Hungary, the country where they were first officially registered. Thanks to the concerted effort and donations of the St. Peter and Paul’s Helferkreis, the JCR has been turned into a fairly cosy & homely space, offering them a modicum of comfort.
Church asylum is in fact an officially recognized status quo, during which refugees are protected from the hands of law, but must not be seen roaming freely beyond the church’s premises. If picked up by the police outside, Diana and Anwah would face immediate deportation to Hungary. A country not exactly known for its friendly stance towards refugees.
But the couple didn’t complete the arduous trip from Aleppo to Munich on their own – they have two children, daughter Nuor (21) and son Sami (23), who studied economics and architecture respectively before moving to Germany. If anything, that journey has turned the family into an even more closely-knit unit, of which Diana emerges as the pillar upon whom the rest of the family leans.
It is therefore all the more hair-raising that the German authorities could even fathom tearing apart this solid unit, by decreeing the deportation of the parents to Hungary, while granting asylum to the daughter (Sami’s fate was yet undecided at the time of writing this blog post). There seems to be a legal loop-hole, allowing to tear up a family unit, if one or both children are already of age.
Being granted church asylum means de facto that Diana and Anwah can’t leave the church premises at all. They are reliant on their daughter, who does their daily shopping on her meagre allowance, depend on donations and visits from the church’s abundance of volunteers and German teachers like myself. It goes without saying, in my case that is, that we don’t stop at rehearsing the German alphabet and counting from one to a hundred. Curious by nature and equipped with a critical mind, I want to know THEIR story, their long journey from Aleppo to Munich, while respecting their personal boundaries at all times.
AND SO THE STORY BEGINS
Diana and Anwah’s house in Aleppo was located geographically right in the middle between the rebels’ military base and the government’s secret service, meaning they were caught in the cross-fire between the warring factions from day 1 of the Syrian conflict.
The added strain of water, food, electricity and fuel shortage made daily life increasingly unbearable. Anwah’s attempt to get his family to join him in Oman, where he relocated to on a work visa from 2014-2015, unfortunately failed, as it proved to be too expensive to obtain visas for the rest of the family.
The definitive decision to leave Aleppo for good was taken in the summer of 2015, and by November 2015 the family set off on a long and uncertain journey towards Germany.